Tax credits could aid companies, public schools

There is no avoiding the "tax man," so they say.

But if any Georgia business or individual taxpayer is going to have to pay the Georgia Department of Revenue, then a new option emerging from the General Assembly certainly would make writing that check more worthwhile.

The Georgia House is considering legislation to permit tuition tax credits worth up to $50 million annually to fund scholarships for students to transfer from public schools to private schools. It would help parents who can't afford private education, such as those struggling in Clayton, DeKalb and other counties who want to leave underperforming public schools.

Corporations could donate up to 75 percent of taxes owed the state to non-profits established to provide more school choice. Individuals could designate up to $1,000 of taxes due instead of paying the state; couples could credit a donation of $2,500 toward their taxes.

For example, if a Georgia corporation owed the state $100,000, it could donate $75,000 to a nonprofit scholarship organization and only owe the Department of Revenue the balance in taxes - $25,000. The same would apply to individual taxpayers.

Tax-credit scholarship programs have been established in Arizona, Florida, Pennsylvania, Iowa and Rhode Island and have been very successful in generating private donations from individuals or corporations that wanted to support programs providing educational choice. In Florida alone, companies such as Wachovia, Burger King and State Farm are among dozens that have contributed millions of dollars to that state's tuition tax credit program in recent years. It is easy to see why.

Georgia companies and individuals would donate their own money to private scholarship funds. There is no argument about whether or not this is a voucher program diverting funds from public schools.

A study released by six national and state organizations last week and written by an economist affiliated with the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice found that a tuition tax credit program could save Georgia's 180 school systems $94 million and the state about $6 million. That's because thousands of students would take these privately funded scholarships and transfer to private schools, leaving a host of tax money available for public schools to improve their performance. Although the student would leave, most of the public funding for that student would remain in the school district.

Corporations should also see a great advantage with this tax credit proposal. It provides them a way to reduce their tax burden while increasing philanthropic giving at the same time.

Tuition tax credits are a big winner for businesses of any size, individual taxpayers, parents, students and public schools. Tuition tax credits are the logical next step in education finance and tax breaks for all Georgians.

David Casas, a public school teacher, is a state representative from Lilburn and sponsor of House Bill 1133, the Tuition Tax Credit Act.